John 12:3, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
This morning I was reading in 2 Corinthians chapter 2 and came across Paul’s statement that “[God] in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” I took some time to consider what exactly Paul meant here and started by looking at the Greek words for “fragrance” and “aroma” (used in v.15). Interestingly, the words are used by Paul in only two other places and in both instances they appear together (however, they appear glossed as one phrase in the ESV, “fragrant offering”).
Ephesians 5:2, “…walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering to God.”
Philippians 4:18, “…the gifts you sent [are] a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
The only other place one of the words appears is in John 12:3, quoted above, when Mary breaks her alabaster jar of ointment and pours it out over the Lord and the fragrance of her “offering” fills the house….more on that later.
Back to Paul, I find it very interesting that he seems to associate these words with sacrifices. This is corroborated by the Old Testament witness since the Greek word translated in 2 Cor. 2:15 as “aroma” first appears in the Greek OT in reference to Noah’s sacrifice to YHWH after the floood and is used elsewhere in relation to sacrifices.
This is a significant thing to consider because, for Paul, the temple sacrifices point to and culminate in the sacrifice of Christ. If we take the use of these words here in 2 Cor. 2 to allude to the fragrance of sacrifice, then some very interesting implications flow from it….I’ll brevity mention one.
Paul says that the (sacrificial) fragrance that God spreads through the witness of the apostles is the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ (2 Cor.2:14). What is the fragrance, the aroma, that rises from the altar of Calvary? It is the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ….a knowledge that is—as Paul will say in 4:6—the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. So the knowledge of the glory of God in Christ is the fragrance that rises from the sacrifice of Calvary….from the cross. That is where Jesus gave Himself to God as a pleasing sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2) and it is the “aroma” of that sacrifice—spread through the speaking of the apostles (2 Cor.2:17)—that IS the knowledge of Christ, who IS the image and revealer of God (again, 2 Cor.4:4-6).
If this is correct, Paul’s use of “aroma” and “fragrance” language here is a subtle way to remind his readers that the self-giving of the Lord, the sacrifice of Christ, the Word of the Cross is at the heart of all that he is and does….and is the means by which the knowledge of God in Christ (aka, eternal life, John 17:3) is spread throughout the world.
And this leads us back to the passage in John 12:3. Just as the fragrance of Mary’s out-poured perfume filled the entire house where Jesus ate on that night, my prayer is that—through the testimony of His people—the whole house of this world would be filled with the fragrance of the ointment—the pure nard of God’s own heart—that flowed from the shattered jar of Christ on Calvary.